The Joe Moorhead era cannot come soon enough for Penn State fans everywhere. While we need to patiently await the Blue-White Game to get a glimpse of what type of offense Moorhead will bring to Happy Valley, in the meantime we are doing all we can to gain insight on what to expect from the offense in 2016. Today, we are fortunate to chat with Mike Watts, Fordham radio announcer for WFUV. Give Mike a follow on Twitter at @MikeWattsOnAir for graciously taking the time to chat all things Moorhead with us.
Fordham's offense seemed to immediately turnaround as soon as Moorhead took the helm. Is the sudden improvement attributed to Moorhead's coaching, good timing where he inherited an experienced and talented offense, or both?
The entire offensive system was overhauled when Joe Moorhead arrived. Taking an offense from 13.2 points per game to 31.2 points per game against a similar schedule. His first season was much more spread out, entirely out of the shotgun and generally much more efficient. New passing concepts that emphasized getting skill players in space and a move from a bruising tailback to a speedier runner with a running quarterback became the norm. He used pieces (Brian Wetzel, Sam Ajala, Carlton Koonce, Ryan Higgins, Mason Halter) from the previous coaching regime to great effect, but the players he brought in only improved the offense. I can't say he will have such an immediate impact at Penn State (improving by 18 points per game is a tall task), but he will work with the players he has until he finds the ones that fit his scheme perfectly.
Is there a specific position group that you believe will benefit the most from having Moorhead as the OC?
I don't know that one particular group will benefit more than any other because he spreads the ball out so well. He spent a few years at nearly 50 percent pass/run play selection, and he won't become overly pass happy or run heavy. Runs set up play action, and big passing plays set up the run. Most plays have run/pass permutations, and he looks to take advantage of whatever the defense gives him. It won't be like the running backs will see a sharp decrease in carries or that wide receivers won't get enough balls. With the explosiveness and efficiency of the offense, everybody should benefit.
Is Moorhead the type of coach to tailor his offense around the talent he has to work with, or is he the type to forgo short-term success to fully install his system?
His system will mold to the players he has. He went from true dropback passer (Ryan Higgins and Peter Maetzold) to ultimate dual threat (UConn transfer Michael Nebrich and Marshall transfer Kevin Anderson) and had a winning record with both. Two years ago, wide receiver screens were utilized more often because of the explosive talent on the outside. The read option was most extensively used in years two and four (because of the running ability of the quarterback). He converted a wide receiver to running back and he ran for 1,600 yards. Then took a player no one else offered as a running back (only as a defensive back) and helped him to the FCS Freshman of the Year Award. Give him talent and he can do the rest. His play calling and game planning is not set in its ways, and he'll alter things based on his own personnel and opponents within the context of his system.
How was Moorhead's relationship with the Fordham fanbase? Did you feel he had a genuine relationship with the Fordham community, or is he the type to focus solely on his duties as a football coach?
The Fordham community loved him. It helps that he was one of the best statistical passers in school history and came from a then-blossoming Big East winning program in UConn. He also never really left the honeymoon stage - they never lost consecutive games in his tenure and his success was immediate. He had a motto every year ("212 degrees", "Sharpen the Axe") that players and fans really bought in to. He's down to earth, a great conversationalist, and a straight shooter. I said it when he left, but Penn State is remarkably lucky to have this coach.
What type of quarterback would thrive most in Moorhead's offense- a standard pocket passer with a big arm or a dual-threat?
He has been successful with both, but his best player at Fordham was a dual threat FBS transfer. If you're wondering if Christian Hackenberg is going to be more successful with Joe Moorhead and if his system will work with him - the answers are unequivocally yes. Michael Nebrich was most successful before his three ACL surgeries when he could run, but even when he was anchored to the pocket the team still scored 40 points per game. A quarterback that is cerebral enough to make sound decisions presnap and during play is a better indicator of success than whether or not he can run read option concepts.
Penn State has several gifted athletes at the skill positions on offense that the previous offensive coordinator didn't quite know how to use properly. How do you think Moorhead may use these type of players, who may not have the size to be an every-down RB or WR, but can be very dangerous with the ball in their hands?
Over the past four years, we've seen a variety of undersized play makers make an impact. You could argue that every position had an undersized player start or impact the game. To an extent, FCS football requires you to take under recruited players and make them valuable. In the Patriot League that didn't have scholarships until 2011, he was asked to put a top 25 team on the field each week with a hugely undersized line, and players that weren't recruited on scholarship (first team all-American linebacker Stephen Hodge was a walk on wide receiver).
He doesn't put much stock into a player's size if he can be effective. He has had years where he used the same three wide receivers almost exclusively. The personnel was identical on the vast majority of plays that season. Two years ago they utilized double tight end sets (Dan Light, with the Broncos practice squad, and 6'8" Phazahn Odom) to get the most talent on the field near the endzone. However he can best exploit a defense is the way he'll operate.
Anything else that would be useful for Penn State fans to know about Moorhead?
Fordham is in the Patriot League, which does not allow developmental redshirting. Fordham perennially played with a smaller line than other conferences in FCS. Penn State's line play has been much maligned, but Fordham has struggled to protect the quarterback every year since Joe arrived, in large part because they played with young scholarship guys who weren't allowed to redshirt, or older pre-scholarship era players. It's harder to find a great FCS offensive lineman, than a great FCS pass rusher. He will make the line look better early in his tenure.